When Coffee and Wi-Fi Don't Mix

13Wifi.XlIn tomorrow's New York Times, I filed this story on Victrola Cafe & Art, a small coffeeshop that is turning off its free Wi-Fi service on weekends. It's a lovely cafe of the kind that one used to find only in Manhattan, but since the rise of Starbucks have populated the hinterlands such as Seattle as a kind of alternative. In Seattle, the home of Starbucks, Tully's, Seattle's Best, Torrefazione, Caffe Vita, and other brands and roasters, we have at least one zillion cafes and most have a distinct culture.

The folks at Victrola, a couple transplanted from Albany, New York, started the cafe as a business, but they wanted to develop a place for the exchange of ideas, where regulars would turn up and pass the time of day, where their baristas could produce mean shots while discussing Kierkegaard. They've achieved that.

But the Wi-Fi culture clash meant for them that the cafe gets filled during busy times with one-to-a-table laptop users, some of whom don't even make a purchase. They wrestled with it for months in staff meetings before testing different methods. During it off on weekends has been successful in atmosphere and financially, and it's also easy to explain.

Some patrons are bent out of joint about it, but I have to say that Wi-Fi is an amenity that's secondary to the business that the cafe is try to conduct. Wi-Fi has to be subordinate to the actual purpose, whether it's cultural or financial. I've been to Victrola a few times before, and they have great decaf and a real commitment to making good coffee and good conversation. I'll brave the hard-parking streets of Capitol Hill a little more frequently in the future to obtain from them a cup of joe--or giovanni, since it's espresso.